OHG-NHG: swapping of bein (bone) and gibeini (leg)

Discussion in 'Etymology, History of languages and Linguistics (EHL)' started by Roy776, Nov 28, 2012.

  1. Roy776

    Roy776 Senior Member

    Kraków, Poland
    German & AmE
    Hello everyone,

    I've just stumbled upon these two words, widely known in Modern High German but with their meanings swapped.
    Today, Gebein means bones and Bein means leg. Does anybody know how it came to this?
    My sources for the words' meanings are the following:

    Bein (Merseburger Zaubersprüche)
    sose benrenki, sose bluotrenki, sose lidirenki:

    ben zi bena, bluot si bluoda,

    lid zi geliden, sose gelimida sin!

    Gibeini
    You might want to search for the word by using CTRL + F.

    Thanks in advance.
     
  2. Peterdg

    Peterdg Senior Member

    I don't know if this will be useful or not, but in Dutch, the same thing happens: "gebeente" = "bones" and "been" = "leg" (but can also mean "bone").
     
  3. Roy776

    Roy776 Senior Member

    Kraków, Poland
    German & AmE
    Do you know how it was in Old Dutch, which word meant what?
     
  4. berndf Moderator

    Geneva
    German (Germany)
    Bein can still mean bone, even in modern German. The meaning Bein=leg just overshadows the meaning Bein=bone so that the latter is confined to combinations like Steißbein or Eisbein ... or ... Gebein. In varieties of German where Bein=leg is not used, like Austrian German where leg=Fuß, the meaning Bein=bone is still very common.
     
  5. Roy776

    Roy776 Senior Member

    Kraków, Poland
    German & AmE
    Thanks, but shouldn't these compound words rather be considered remnants of the word's "archaic" meaning?
    By the way, I begin to doubt the reliability of the information about the word 'gibeini'. To me, it looks like a plural noun (which it most probably also is) but they say it has the meaning of the singular noun 'leg'.
     
  6. Peterdg

    Peterdg Senior Member

    No idea whatsoever.

    But, what I do think to know is that the combination "ge-word-te" is relatively frequent in Dutch to mean a collection of word as a new, independent identity.

    E.g.
    gebeente: collection of bones ("been" is "bone")
    gemeente: collection of "meent" (= archaic word for "piece of land"), meaning "municipalilty" or "town"
    gevogelte: collection of "vogels" ("birds") meaning "poeltry"
    gedeelte: collection of parts ("deel"="part") forming a "part" by itself.
    ongedierte: collection of bad ("on") animals ("dier"): = "bugs"

    But don't think it can be applied to any word or concept: there is only a limited number of concepts that allow for this mechanism. It works with "vogels" ("birds") and "dieren" ("animals") but not with "vissen" ("fish").

    Now, don't pay too much attention to what I'm saying: I don't know very much about ethymology; it's just a personal interpretation and observation.
     
  7. Roy776

    Roy776 Senior Member

    Kraków, Poland
    German & AmE
    No, no, that's actually quite interesting and (I think) logical. The ge- prefix also had different usages in the OHG time, for example putting verbs into a perfective aspect, and I think that such collective nouns are also part of its usage, but I could be wrong.
     
  8. berndf Moderator

    Geneva
    German (Germany)
    That is another way to say what I meant, except that I don't consider the meaning bein=bone obsolete as you seem to do. The two meanings have been standing side by side for many centuries and today bein=leg is indeed predominant in most regions but in regions where this meaning is not used, bein=bone is very much alive and kicking. If, e.g., my mother-in-law said Mir tun die Beine weh I would understand this to mean my bones hurt.

    I don't think it ever meant anything else that today: totality/system of bones, skeleton. According to Grimm, the meaning Gebein=all legs occasionally occurred. This meaning is derived from Gebein=all bones in the same way as Bein=leg is derived from Bein=bone: The meaning of Bein=bone was narrowed to thigh-bone and then extended the the limb as a whole.

    The prefix syllable ge- can have several meanings. As you said, it can express a perfective aspect. But the most ancient and general meaning is indeed collection of/totality of, as you both said (Geflügel, Getier, Gebirge, etc.).
     

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